Changing with the seasons

Added chardonnay gives good acid balance in Codorniu
Added chardonnay gives good acid balance in Codorniu

Despite all the difficulties, 2008 was one of the best years ever when it came to the variety and quality offered by Irish importers. Our seasonal tasting sampled the best of what's about this year



11 November 2008

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Ranges of sherries, non-Champagne sparklers and lesser known wine producing regions have become increasingly brave. We can now enjoy wines from Italy’s Basilicata, Spain’s Priorat and Greece’s Peleponnese, none of which would have been available a couple of years ago.

The wines which follow combine the best of what we’ve tasted through the year, along with some newer offerings. Prices are approximate retail.


Added chardonnay gives good acid balance in Codorniu

Added chardonnay gives good acid balance in Codorniu

Codorniu Cava Reserva Raventos (Barry Fitzwilliam Maxxium €16.99) With chardonnay added to the usual Cava varieties, this has apple and pear flavours with a light toasty streak. Decent complexity and acid balance make it good value for the price. Perfect aperitif but also good with starters and grilled white meats

McGuigan Sparkling Rose (Barry Fitzwilliam ). A popular name and a popular style should make this an easy seller. Lively red fruit with a enough body to carry to the table for the starters.
Cono Sur Sparkling Brut (Findlater Grant €14.99). Something very new from Chile and from an incras

Red party wines

Man Shiraz South Africa 2006 (Gilbey, €11). Great value party wine which is good enough for dinner and the screw cap makes it easy to serve a crowd. Well concentrated fruit for the price

Trapiche Malbec Argentina 2007
(Comans €11). Value enough to serve as a party wine but the damson fruit palate makes it an ideal companion for beef and game

White party wines

Argento Chardonnay Argentina 2007 (Cassidy €9.45). Sound, crowd pleasing chardonnay perfect for cold meat, pate and cheese

Vitae Pinot Grigio 2007 (Ampersand €11). Pinot grigio is nearly essential for a party nowadays and this is a lively one, with easy green plum and apple flavours. Great for nibbles

Red dinner wines

Ch. Le Coteau Margaux Bordeaux 2004 (Cassidy €29). I know that many wine buffs regard Bordeaux as too tannic for turkey but can you resist it for a Christmas splash-out? The secret is to go for relative maturity and this elegant Margaux fills the bill with its smooth blackcurrant and berry fruit

Dom. De Courteillac Bordeaux Superior 2003
(Febvre €21). Noticeably balanced wine, with blackcurrant fruit which is warm and ripe without being overheated

Le Petit Jaboulet Syrah 2006
(Gilbey €10.50). A real winner with cold turkey and ham

Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir Tasmania 2007 (Ampersand €14). Lovely varietal character yet more approachable than Burgundy classics. Its soft cranberry and summer fruit flavours make it perfect with turkey

La Ferme du Mont Gigondas Cotes Jugunda 2005 (Cassidy €21). Warm and tasty fruit in a wine ready to drink now. A generous companion for turkey and duck

White dinner wines

Dolle Gaisberg Riesling Austria 2006 (Cassidy €20). Good value for what you get, with faint tropical fruit underpinning green apple flavours and a pleasing floral nose. For fish, cold starters and a splendid aperitif

Henschke Littlehampton Innes Pinot Gris Australia 2007 (Cassidy €32). One to save for the buffs on a special night. Try with rich fish such as halibut or with lightly spiced chicken and soft cheeses

Latour Macon Village Chameroy 2006
(Gilbey €12.99). If you want white with turkey, chardonnay is hard to beat and classic Burgundy is top treat. This good value Macon has enough structure to cope with hefty dishes but there’s elegance to the ripe citrus fruit with its gentle touches of apricot

Le Rime Pinot Grigio Chardonnay 2007
(Febvre €15). Elegant Tuscan white with flavours of yellow and green apples. Lovely with classic starters like prawn and crab, vegetable quiche, salmon mayonnaise and salads

Before or after, why not Sherry?

Sherry is the best cheap wine you can get. Now, that’s a statement that may give all the wrong impressions but it is, in fact, the simple truth. Its vinification requires great skill, and while its long ageing takes place in cellars, or soleras, millions of euros of cash flow are tied up. At the end of it all, the finest examples of the stuff are sold at what are almost laughable prices for the effort that’s put into it and the quality that you get.

So why not give it a swing this Christmas and get some bang for your hard pressed buck? And don’t just leave it at sherry from Jerez. Several other districts make wine in similar manner, including Montilla Moriles, which has long struggled in the shadow of its more famous neighbour. But a new generation of producers has been trying to change that, with results that I found in some recent tasting, as you shall see.

So what to drink it with, over the Christmas season? With almost everything, is the answer. Manzanilla, the driest style, is great with nuts and nibbles. Fino, which has the merest trace of citrus fruit beneath its nutty tang, is good with smoked foods, including smoked salmon, ham and, oddly enough, potato dishes such as tortilla and potato cakes. Sweet pedro ximenes is the perfect dessert wine; laden with rich sherry flavours, you won’t find a better friend to plum pudding. Here’s a few to try; prices approximately retail.

Alvear Fino de Rama 2004
. Like much Montilla wine, this one is made from pedro ximenes rather than the Palomino of Jerez. Acidity is low, but there’s a zesty tang to the palate, with touches of dry citrus, salt and nuts

Hidalgo La Gitana Fino
. Classic Jerez fino with just a trace of citrus. This one can carry on to the table, coping handily with smoked starters and even white meat and vegetables

Alvear PX Solero 1927
. Lush pudding wine, laden with raisin, date and fig flavours. Serve with plum pud and cake, and it also goes well with rich ice creams and pecan pie

Romate NPU Amontillado (Findlater Grant €20). Vanilla, tobacco, walnut, dried orange skin. Try this after dinner with hard cheeses



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